Study Highlights Emerging Issues Related to PTSD for OEF/OIF Women Veterans
- Combat deployments are not associated with a higher risk of mental health problems for women compared to men. However, women are more likely than men to meet criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following a range of traumatic experiences. This difference cannot be explained by a higher risk for traumatic events more generally, nor can it be entirely accounted for by a higher risk for more severe traumatic events, such as sexual abuse.
- Studies published between 2002 and 2007 suggest that more than half of women Veterans experienced pre-military physical or sexual abuse. And there is some evidence that pre-military trauma increases women Veterans' risk of developing PTSD following combat exposure.
- Concerns about family/relationship disruptions are more strongly associated with post-deployment mental health for female than male service members. Additional research in this area is warranted to identify the long-term impact these stressors have on women Veterans and their families.
- This review highlighted a number of areas where there is a paucity of research (e.g., gender differences in combat exposure and associated consequences for post-deployment health), thus there is a great need for further investigation.
Following the Gulf War, changes in DoD policy and new legislation enacted by Congress eased rules excluding women from combat-related positions, making more than 90% of military occupations available to women. As a result, women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan serve in a variety of support positions that involve leaving military bases, working side-by-side with combat soldiers, and coming under direct fire. The distinction between combat and non-combat roles holds even less meaning in these particular conflicts, which have been characterized by guerrilla fighting in urban war zones with no clear front lines. The goal of this review was to highlight emerging issues relevant to the development of PTSD among women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Investigators reviewed the literature on topics including: gender differences in combat experiences and in PTSD following combat exposure; sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other interpersonal stressors experienced during deployment; women Veterans' experiences of pre-military trauma exposure; and unique stressors faced by women Veterans during the homecoming readjustment period.
This study was partly funded by HSR&D. All authors are part of VA's National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
Street A, Vogt D, and Dutra L. A New Generation of Women Veterans: Stressors Faced by Women Deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Clinical Psychology Review August 24, 2009;e-pub ahead of print.